Security at heart of refreshing Enterasys strategy

Enterasys, a networking company that since its inception has been in a constant state of makeover, may have finally hit upon an identity with which it can live for a long time.

That identity is a brand called Secure Networks, and it succinctly defines what it is that Enterasys seeks to bring to the enterprise table. It’s not an old idea. Rather, the value of security in networks — a top-of-mind issue for everybody in IT these days — has been stressed by the company for a couple of years. Enterasys began focusing in earnest on the combination of security imbedded into the very fabric of its high-performance communication switches almost two years ago, but at an industry analyst event in Boston last month, the firm seemed to finally hit upon a simple and direct story.

What’s different today than in years past for Enterasys is that the company has backed away from a dense discussion of IT security, away from the perspective of its intricacies and inner workings to instead focusing on a pragmatic message that when a customer purchases an Enterasys Secure Networks product, they also buy a security fabric — as little or as much desired.

In fact, placing an Enterasys Secure Networks branded product within any network topology, regardless of what equipment happens to be already in place, provides at least some measure of security function and/or enhances what you already have. Of course, the Enterasys security fabric is much more functional and fully realized in a “pure” Enterasys environment.

Security as a functional feature of communication systems is a compelling mix. Networks have always been the entry points to outside intrusion and the perceived Achilles’ Heel of distributed computing. The ever-mounting fear regarding privacy and security in computing in general, combined with all sorts of legislation and regulatory pressure on business to protect their data and computing environments plays quite nicely into what Enterasys seeks to define as it specialty.

According to Enterasys president Mark Aslett, security today ranks as a consideration above and beyond simply moving bits and bytes. Traditionally network investments have been driven by connectivity, capacity and cost. As Aslett explained, a new primary driver focuses squarely on business continuity — around security and the notion of, will my network stand up to the next attack?

“We think it is the most important purchasing criteria in building out a next-generation network,” he said.

Company chief technology officer John Roese gave further clarity to the Enterasys value proposition, explaining that IT security is typically imposed as point solutions and usually at the perimeter of IT infrastructures. He argued that such an approach is fundamentally flawed, citing the example of firewalls and anti-viruses that defend by creating barriers between two sides.

But if you circumvent the barrier, by plugging into the network within the network core itself, then you can propagate an intrusion. Hence the importance of building security within the very fabric of network infrastructure — in the network equipment — so that there is security intelligence to not only be aware of intrusion situations, but to react to these.

Clearly the inference here was that the Enterasys approach is to create security within the network fabric and through every attached device. Make it work so that it is intelligent and proactive. The function is built into Enterasys gear, says Roese — it’s a matter of activating it. What Roese didn’t fully discuss was the cost of this gradually released function and how difficult/complicated is it to configure and make it work.

Additionally, does Enterasys, now a somewhat small equipment maker, realistically have the wherewithal to legitimately carve out such a specialized niche that could potentially explode and create the kind of product demand that the company may not be in a position to meet?

While intelligent and proactive security still has some distance to go before becoming the reality everyone desires, Enterasys seeks to go down the road and has imbedded its security know-how into the Secure Networks product line, which currently includes what is described as a tool for dynamic intrusion response — a feature that finds intrusions, isolates them and enforces a prescribed reaction, i.e. to suppress the reaction of a worm or virus and/or to stop it entirely.

Coming soon is something called Clientless Trust Services, described as a scan and control tool that assesses potential vulnerabilities of network-attached devices, which then has the ability to change the policy for those devices.

Additionally, the feature can detect potential vulnerabilities from end systems and invokes network reactions to control accesses of these devices. It’s all pretty heady stuff.

Enterasys suddenly looks like a network company with a clear purpose and identity. Security is a technology story, but technology always has been a place where Enterasys is most comfortable and credible. The interesting thing with IT security these days is that many customers have budgets to do something with their networks and security, but don’t know what to do. So many look to vendors in order to help them understand even the most basic security issues and will buy from those who can provide the best set of solutions and strategies.

Enterasys recognizes the opportunity and seeks to become the trusted network security experts. It’s a value proposition that beats the heck out of the tired mantra of “we do what Cisco does, only better.”

Now if Enterasys could only do something about that tongue-twister of a corporate name.

McLean is director, strategic partnering and alliances research for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].

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